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Chechnya still in the grip of lawlessness

August 12, 2003

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NAZRAN (Russia): Despite Moscow’s assurances that peace and order have all but been restored in Chechnya, hundreds of people are continuing to disappear in daily incidents casting a pall of fear over the southern republic’s war-weary population.

Yaha Sanukhayeva’s brother Islam was seized on the doorstep of his home in the capital Grozny by armed men mounted on military-style jeeps with dirt-smeared license plates, she said.

“My brother has never taken part in any guerrilla activities, and we can’t imagine what he might be guilty of,” she said, recalling bitterly the official assurances that “all will be well after the referendum” held in March, said to have firmly sealed Chechnya back to Russia after a decade of warfare.

The referendum was presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a political process restoring Chechnya into Russia’s fold and reestablishing order — a pledge he made in his appeal to the Chechens ahead of the vote.

“Return our brothers and sons to us, and you will have the Chechens’ gratitude,” Sanukhayeva said.

Chechens have good grounds for feeling insecure as there have been 278 kidnappings in the first five months of this year, with 56 people later found dead while 49 people have vanished without trace, according to official figures.

Moreover some Chechens appear to have been targeted even outside Chechnya proper in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, where thousands of Chechens fled after Russia launched its crackdown on separatist guerrilla in October 1999.

“My brother Murad was detained by the military on the outskirts of Nazran (in Ingushetia) and taken in an unknown direction three weeks ago,” Zalina Zakriyeva said.

“The local police must know about this, otherwise I can’t understand how armed people can ride around in broad daylight and abduct people. But if my brother and others are guilty of something, let them be charged and arrested on a court order,” she said.

Witnesses said that the kidnappers of Murad Zakriyev and his cousin Rustam Muradov were masked and dressed in military clothes, and switched their license plates after driving a short distance with their captives.

Two other victims of a similar-styled kidnapping, a Chechen and an Ingush, were beaten and thrown out of the car not far from the town of Mozdok in Ingushetia, witnesses reported.

A local correspondent for AFP, Ali Astamirov, is still missing after being seized by masked men in Nazran on July 4, having previously received a series of threatening phone calls.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting said a couple of months ago that Russian special forces had introduced a new tactic in which masked men raid houses in the middle of the night and seize men, almost all of whom are never seen again.

Even the pro-Moscow Chechen administration has complained about the abductions of what it calls law-abiding citizens. The disappearances now occur on an almost daily basis, according to human rights groups.

The European Parliament last month accused Russian troops of “war crimes and crimes against humanity that must be investigated and prosecuted,” something that Moscow has repeatedly promised to do but failed to carry out.—AFP